Local police and federal authorities worked Monday to determine why a man went on a deadly shooting spree at a Nashville-area church, while a shocked community prepared for prayer vigils for the victims and their families in the shooting’s aftermath.
One person was killed and seven others injured Sunday as services were wrapping up at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, near Nashville.
Emanuel Kidega Samson, 25, of La Vergne, Tennessee, was charged with felony homicide and was being held without bond. Other charges are coming later, police said. His next court appearance is Wednesday.
The Justice Department and FBI have opened a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting, and police said they were still trying to establish the suspect’s motive.
Local police also requested the assistance of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to run an “urgent trace” on a firearm, an ATF representative told CNN.
The trace would give authorities an indication of where the gun was purchased, who purchased it and whether it was purchased legally, the ATF representative said.
Church members told police that Samson attended the church one to two years ago, Metropolitan Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron. But they had not seen him in a while and did not immediately recognize him because the gunman was masked.
Police initially said the suspect was African-American but later identified him as Sudanese with legal US residency.
From church parking lot to sanctuary
Samson “pulled into the church parking lot in a blue SUV. He is believed to have been there for at least several minutes before church let out,” the police said in a statement.
Samson shot and killed Melanie Crow Smith, 39, of Smyrna, Tennessee, as she was walking to her car in the parking lot, police said. She died at the scene.
The shooter then entered the church through the sanctuary’s main door with two pistols and “began indiscriminately shooting,” said Aaron, the police spokesman.
Minerva Rosa, who was inside the church when the shooting started, told reporters Sunday the gunman was silent when he opened fire.
About 50 people were still inside the sanctuary during the shooting.
Six people, ranging in age from 64 to 84, were wounded by gunfire, Aaron said.
One patient at Vanderbilt University Medical Center is in critical condition, the hospital said. It would not release the name.
Usher called ‘a hero’
Church usher Robert Caleb Engle, 22, saw the shooting and confronted the gunman, Aaron said. During a struggle, Engle was pistol-whipped and the gunman mistakenly shot himself.
“The wound sent Samson to the floor. Engle, despite his head injuries, ran out to his car in the parking lot and retrieved a pistol. He held Samson at gunpoint until police arrived,” a police statement said.
Police recovered four firearms believed to be Samson’s — two pistols in the church and a pistol and rifle from his SUV.
Without Engle, “I think it could be worse,” Rosa said. “He was a hero today.”
Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson said Engle “stopped this madness, so we’re very, very, very grateful to him.”
“He’s the hero,” Anderson said.
Engle released a statement through the hospital where he was treated, saying he did not want to be labeled a hero.
“I’ve been going to this church my whole life, since I was a small child,” he said. “I would have never, ever thought something like this would have happened.”
He asked for prayers for the victims and their families, adding, “Please pray for the shooter, the shooter’s family and friends. They are hurting as well.”
He said, “The real heroes are the police, first responders and medical staff and doctors who have helped me and everyone affected.”
Prayer vigils will be held Monday to show support for the victims and their families.
One is set for 3 p.m. local (4 p.m. ET) at Woodmont Hills Church in Nashville, an event led by area religious leaders
“Nashville area pastors, ministers and shepherds, please join us for a time of prayer and unity,” the church said on its Facebook page. “If you are unable to attend, please join us in spirit.”
Another will be outside Burnette Chapel Church of Christ at 7 p.m. local time.
“We are beyond grateful for the enormous outpouring of love and compassion we have received from so many after the tragic event that took place yesterday,” the church said on its Facebook page Monday.
“We ask for your continued prayers and support during the coming days and months.”